Ivory Coast’s creation of a Senate

ABIDJAN–– The West African nation of the Ivory Coast on Thursday inducted its first Senate, an upper house to the country’s parliament that President Alassane Ouattara called a “chamber of wisdom” but which the opposition members say will tighten his grip on power.

The establishment of the Senate was a provision of a new constitution decreed in 2016. The country’s main opposition groups boycotted the referendum that sanctioned the charter as well as polls last month that elected 66 members to the 99-seat body.

“The Senate is installed. It is an important chamber for the rooting of democracy,” said Ouattara, who addressed the newly elected lawmakers bedecked in green, white and orange sashes – the color of the Ivorian flag. “It is a chamber of wisdom,” the President said.

Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, a former prime minister, and member of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI), and the main coalition partner of Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) will head the Senate.

Ouattara is seeking to solidify the alliance as Ivory Coast – the world’s top cocoa producer – heads towards presidential elections in 2020.

Although the Ivorian leader has received praise for the revival of the country, he faces growing criticisms for not doing enough to heal the deep divisions left over from the crisis years.

Diplomats and political analysts say the 2016 constitution was a missed opportunity to advance constructive political dialogue between Ouattara’s backers and supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo, accused of crimes against humanity committed during the 2011 conflict, is presently on trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The ruling coalition already dominates the existing National Assembly, which will become the lower house of parliament.

“This is the worst of democratic retreats. It’s abhorrent,” Boubakar Kone, a spokesman for one of the two rival factions of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party said.

President Ouattara is yet to name the final 33 senators, though it is expected the list will include some opposition figures.